Star of Star Wars spin-off Donnie Yen can't resist the Force
Chinese action film actor Donnie Yen stars in both Ip Man 3 and upcoming Star Wars spin-off
Star Wars fever has gripped fans all over the world and Donnie Yen is no exception.
The China-born action movie star told reporters last week at the Hong Kong premiere of Ip Man 3that he has come a long way from watching his first Star Wars film, at age 15, to playing "(one of) the first Chinese (characters) in the Star Wars family".
Yen, 52, plays a main character in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the sci-fi franchise's first spin-off film due to be released next December.
Speculation has been rife about Yen's role, but he remained mum.
"I can only say I've spent about five months shooting... I can't wait to bring my kids to watch the show," said Yen, when we met at The Metroplex in Hong Kong.
"I am amazed that almost 40 years after first watching Star Wars, I would be able to participate and even play one of the main characters in the franchise. It's a great honour," he said.
Yen said his three children are fans, too. His younger son James even celebrated his eighth birthday recently with a Star Wars cake.
He will be taking his family to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the Shanghai premiere on Dec 27.
Before that comes the release of his latest project Ip Man 3, which opens here on Thursday.
Donnie Yen (above, right) in a first cast photo released for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. PHOTO: WALT DISNEY
It sees Yen reprising his role as the wing chun (a Chinese martial art) grandmaster Ip Man after a five-year hiatus.
The gongfu epic is loosely based on Bruce Lee's martial arts mentor Ip Man. The third instalment shows him taking on a crooked property developer.
"I've found lots of inspiration (to play Ip Man) from my own life - how I treat my wife, my kids," said Yen.
"Ip Man the character, quite a bit of my life has been written into his... I don't like going out, if I'm on vacation, I'd stay in the hotel, talk to my family, at most go and practise a little martial arts.
"I think Ip Man is very much like me and I am very much like him. For an actor to successfully play a role, he has to imbue the character with some real personal traits."
It has been reported that Ip Man 3 may be Yen's action film swansong, but he seemed dismissive of the talk.
"I don't have this sort of thinking (on when to stop)," he said.
"The five years since the last Ip Man have given me lots of opportunities to try other things...
"As an actor, it was great and also good practice. In the future, there are many motivations in taking up a role, for example, people liking Ip Man, people liking Donnie Yen to continue doing action films...
"If there really is a day I don't want to do an action film, it would mean I wouldn't want to shoot any film at all," said Yen.
As a veteran in his industry, Yen said he feels a growing sense of "responsibility" to be a good example to younger generations.
"As I got older, as an actor, I need to have a bigger responsibility, not just being an actor that can give viewers enjoyment, you also need to have a message," he said.
"As a celebrity, kids look up to you as an example. Through movies, your characters, you can influence the next generation.
"More and more, I hope not just in my films but through my actions and behaviour, I hope to be a good example."
I am amazed that almost 40 years after first watching Star Wars, I would be able to participate and even play one of the main characters in the franchise. It's a great honour.
- Donnie Yen, on his role in a Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Lynn Hung wants a ring on her finger
She initially wanted to get married by the age of 25.
When she reached that age, she figured she would be married by 30.
But now, at 34 years old, Chinese actress Lynn Hung, who plays Ip Man's supportive wife, said she has given up setting deadlines for marriage.
"I will just let fate take its course," said Hung, who was at the Hong Kong premiere of Ip Man 3 with her co-stars Donnie Yen and Max Zhang.
Brushing aside media reports speculating she would be getting hitched this month, Hung said it is her dream to settle down and start a family like her character Cheung Wing-Sing, but nobody has proposed.
She will not be out chasing a ring as she believes women should be "passive" in relationships.
"I really hope I can have my own family. It would be very blissful and fulfilling," said Hung, who dated Hong Kong actor and singer Aaron Kwok from 2006 to 2013.
"Nobody has proposed to me. I can't pester (my boyfriend) to propose. The pressure is immense. The media is reporting on my relationship and 'wedding' every day. It's driving me crazy," she said.
Without naming him, Hung said her boyfriend - rumoured to be TVB actress Kenix Kwok's brother, Kwok Ho Chung - is loving and romantic.
LOVERS: (Above left) Lynn Hung as her character Cheung Wing- Sing, with Donnie Yen as her husband Ip Man. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION & SCORPIO EAST PICTURES
"I'm a very simple woman. If a man does small things for me I would be happy, like if he were to pick me up from the airport," she said.
Her ideal man is much like the men in the Ip Man films - strong and well-built.
"If they know a little martial arts that would be even better - if anything happens they can stand in front of me like a shield," she said.
"My ideal man has to be loyal and sincere, must be trustworthy, must give me a sense of security."
She thinks she shares Cheung's traditional views on women's roles in the family, but would find it difficult to be as selfless and giving.
"My character is okay with the husband going out and about all day while she looks after the family and supports him... I can't do that, that's too hard," she said.
One thing she enjoyed about Cheung's development in Ip Man 3 was getting a taste of the action.
Not that Hung swung any punches, but she did get in the way of muay thai fighter Sarut Khanwilai in his fight against Yen on-screen.
"We were in the lift, it was a tiny space for three people, and they were fighting all over, kicking each other. It was so fast I couldn't get out of the way in time, so I was being pushed around," she said.
"I was too slow and got hit on my chin. It wasn't too bad, more like a brush across my jaw, but it was still pretty painful. The result, though, was good and the director played it in slow-motion."
He's maxed out
STOIC: Max Zhang as Cheung Tin-chi in Ip Man 3. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION & SCORPIO EAST PICTURES
Max Zhang, who plays Ip Man's frenemy Cheung Tin-chi, may be touted as the successor to his Ip Man 3 co-star Donnie Yen, but he says his accomplishments in action films are the result of intense, tough training - a gruelling path he hopes his children will avoid.
In a separate interview, the 41-year-old Chinese actor and former wushu athlete said: "The toughest part of it was the amount of time I had to spend, from when I started at nine to when I retired in my 20s.
"Those slow, long years of focused training, and then the 20 years of professional work since - all this time, to me, is year after year spent repeating one thing, training martial arts.
"To me, it's still okay when you're young. In your 20s, you begin to wonder about the future and why you're still locked up training and doing the same things every day.
"That is the toughest thing to endure. But in retrospect, that is what has allowed me to do what other people can't."
Zhang, who is married to Hong Kong actress Ada Choi, is adamant that their two daughters, aged two and four, not follow in his footsteps.
"I would rather (they) enjoy their childhood," he said with a laugh.
"In order to shoot martial arts shows, you have to have good foundation and that means you have to start training young. I don't want them to have to go through the harshness of training. I think it is way too tough. It is an extreme way of living life."
He said his family does worry about him, given the physically taxing fight scenes he does for work.
"My older girl is now getting to an age where she better understands what I'm doing, so she will tell me, 'Daddy, when you work please don't get hurt, and don't hurt other people'," said Zhang.
"It melts my heart, so now when I film, I will still do dangerous sequences, but I will be more cautious than I used to be."
Zhang said he does not dare accept the label of Yen's "successor", joking that Yen has not even retired.
He said: "I've never thought to succeed anyone and I don't think anyone can replace Yen. I only want to go forward in (my) unique path."
As to who would win if the duo slugged it out for real off-camera, Zhang said: "We are both fathers, we have to set good examples.
"Safety is of utmost importance. We can't be injury-free while shooting and then go get ourselves hurt off-screen."